People sometimes dream of buying a house that they remember fondly from childhood, few of us end up living in one that we used to hate. But that’s exactly what Francesca Forcolini, the woman behind hip street-fashion label, Labour of Love, has done. She grew up in a 20s mock-Tudor house in Dulwich in southeast London, and remembers feeling sorry for her friend who lived up the road on this quiet cul-de-sac of late-60s bungalows. “I used to think: ‘Poor girl, those houses are so ugly!’”
However tastes change and, over the years, Forcolini has revised her views. “Sixties and 70s homes aren’t always much to look at, but inside they are lovely, light, rational spaces,” she enthuses. It also helps that her partner, Barry Menmuir, with whom she has daughters Anouk, eight, and Ray, five, specialises in renovating midcentury properties.
When Menmuir found this house – unassuming from the front but Tardis-like within – Forcolini came to view it with an open mind. That was just as well because the place had been languishing on the market for two years and was rotting away with condensation. “But there was plenty of light, the spaces were great and I thought we could make them even better and turn an ugly duckling into a bit of a swan,” she explains. The cost of the work involved had proved prohibitive for most potential buyers.
It needed a specialist like Menmuir who was able to do the bulk of the renovation himself. He gutted the place and rebuilt it from the floor up, adding insulation and underfloor heating. They also extended the back of the house, transforming a fourth box bedroom into a generous office and creating a much bigger living room. Menmuir cleverly matched the original African mahogany ceiling here with a new cedar section and added a wall of slide-back windows and a poured concrete floor that extends out into the garden, both of which increase the sense of space.
Meanwhile, at the front of the house, they extended into an unused courtyard to create a light-filled dining area in the once small kitchen. This opens via sliding doors on to the green and peaceful entrance courtyard. The finished house was painted white throughout. “I like to create a space that’s like a container for what you put inside,” explains Forcolini. “The colour and interest come from the furniture, art and objects that are put into it.”
Menmuir built many of the pieces himself, including the living-room shelves and storage and the oak-veneered plywood kitchen cabinets. Forcolini, who is the designer behind fashion label Labour of Love, is lucky to come from a family of design aficionados. The yellow kitchen chairs and a blue Wink easy chair came from her family home, while an Eames recliner and ottoman were once her Italian great-grandfather’s. “The modernist look has become quite mass-produced and can be a little impersonal and cold. I love to mix it with crafts, colour and print to warm it up.”
In fact, it’s a look that is true to design tradition. The Californian home of groundbreaking American designers Charles and Ray Eames was full of colour, texture and objects from many cultures, just like the busy shelves in Forcolini’s living room. She applies the same aesthetic principles to her work at Labour of Love, combining clean lines and impeccable construction with loud, graphic prints. “Some people are inspired by minimalism or an empty space, but I feed off pattern and colour. When I see these things, it’s like a release of endorphins,” she explains.
Now that the hard graft is over, the family are enjoying their home. “Living on one level works really well for us. The girls can scoot and roller-skate in and out, but the bedrooms are cleverly zoned off from the living areas to provide some privacy. It’s a great place for parties and even when I’m alone here working, there’s such a sense of the outdoors that you can be very content here.”